CASPER – Senior Kalee McEwan and junior Ky Buell snagged possibly the most important steals of their prep careers on inbound passes Thursday.

Those steals helped the Cheyenne East girls basketball team survive a furious fourth-quarter comeback by Casper Kelly Walsh for a thrilling 44-42 victory in the first round of the Wyoming Class 4A state basketball tournament at Casper College’s “Swede” Erickson Thunderbird Gym.

The Lady Thunderbirds (26-2) play Campbell County (15-8) at 4:30 p.m. today in the semifinals at the Casper Events Center. East and the Camels have met in the past two state championship games, with each team taking a win.

With the game tied 41-41 and 38.6 seconds remaining, Buell jumped in front of an inbounds pass from Kelly Walsh junior Isabel Lyons and went straight to the hoop for a layup and a free throw when she was fouled by junior Danilynn Schell for a 44-41 lead with 34.7 left.

“I knew that defense was going to win this game for us,” Buell said. “So I was ready to stop her and an opportunity showed. As long as you play defense, it’s all hustle and it was a hustle play for me.”

After Kelly Walsh senior Kylie Spangler missed a 3-point attempt, she later gathered in an offensive rebound, and was fouled by T-Birds senior Sydney Miller. Spangler made her first charity shot before Kelly Walsh coach Sara Tuomi called a timeout for some strategy with just 10.8 seconds left.

The discussion led to Spangler purposely missing her second attempt, and it worked as junior teammate Corin Carruth gathered in the rebound and the ball was knocked out of her hands. This time it was Carruth with the inbounds pass on their own end of the court and 7.2 seconds remaining. Her attempt to go inside was intercepted by McEwan , who was promptly fouled by Carruth with 2.7 seconds to play.

“Don’t throw the ball away,” said McEwan about what she was thinking just before she was fouled with the ball in her hands. “Just be calm, find a guard and get them the ball.”

She missed her free throw, but it didn’t matter as Kelly Walsh (18-6) was forced to try a long desperation shot as time ran out.

“All credit to Kelly Walsh, they played a heck of a game and really hard,” first-year East coach Eric Westling said. “But time and time again this year it’s our girls’ resiliency, never-quit attitude that always shows up and I saw that at the end of the game.

“And thank goodness we did because we were out of chances.”

Buell had a game-high 16 points, including two timely 3-pointers to halt mini runs by the Trojans. The first came late in the second quarter to give East a 25-14 lead, the second midway through the third quarter for a 32-24 advantage after Kelly Walsh scored five straight.

“We played when we needed to and like we were supposed to in the end,” Buell said. “We played when it mattered – we played defense when it mattered, we played as a team when it mattered and that’s all that matters. We put in a good fight.”

Junior Madison Blaney and senior Abby Brady added eight points each for East, and McEwan had seven points and a team-high eight rebounds as East outrebounded Kelly Walsh 44-41 overall. Miller added seven boards for the T-Birds.

“At first, I wasn’t working as hard as I could, and I looked over at my team (near the end of the third quarter) and I saw them working their butts off,” McEwan said. “In my head, I knew I had to work harder for them and I started going for it.”

The Trojans erased an 11-point deficit with a 14-0 run to start the fourth quarter and led 41-38 with 2:13 left. The spark started with back-to-back 3s by Spangler and Schell.

Kelly Walsh was led by 15 points from Lyons and nine points from Spangler.

“It’s definitely not good for your health,” Westling said about coaching in the tense final couple minutes. “But, for me, it was why you do it. All of credit goes to my staff for doing the things to keep me where I need to be to make the decision I need to make.

“It’s not fun, but it’s fun to be in those games because that’s why you compete.”

EAST 44, KELLY WALSH 42

Cheyenne East.................................13 14 11 6 – 44

Casper Kelly Walsh..........................11 5 11 15 – 42

Cheyenne East: Miller 0-4 0-0 0, Jacobsen 0-0 0-0 0, Bailey 0-3 1-2 1, Blaney 3-11 2-3 8, Buell 6-21 2-2 16, Brady 3-4 2-2 8, Martin 0-1 0-0 0, Erickson 2-5 0-0 4, McEwan 3-10 1-6 7. Totals: 17-59 8-15 44.

Casper Kelly Walsh: Spangler 3-5 1-2 9, Lloyd 1-1 0-1 2, Schell 1-4 1-2 4, Lyons 6-15 3-6 15, Strube 0-2 0-0 0, Carruth 2-8 1-2 7, Lloyd 0-5 2-4 2, Johnson 0-3 1-3 1, Schumucker 2-3 0-0 4. Totals: 15-46 9-20 42.

3-pointers: East 2-11 (Buell 2-9, Miller 0-1, Blaney 0-1); Kelly Walsh 3-10 (Spangler 2-4, Schell 1-4, Lyons 0-1, Johnson 0-1). Rebounds: East 44 (McEwan 8); Kelly Walsh 41 (Carruth 13). Assists: East 5 (Buell 4); Kelly Walsh 10 (Spangler 3). Steals: East 14 (Miller 4); Kelly Walsh 9 (Johnson 4). Turnovers: East 16 (Blaney 4); Kelly Walsh 21 (Lloyd). Team fouls: East 20, Kelly Walsh 14.

David Watson is a writer for WyoSports. He can be reached at dwatson@wyosports.net or 307-755-3327. Follow him on Twitter at @dwatsonsports.

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